The Greek term ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) is normally translated by the English word “church” in the New Testament. What most people do not know is that the English word “church” did not originate from the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) nor from the concept of the ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) as expressed in the New Testament.
Instead, the English word “church” originated with the Greek word κυριακός‚ (kuriakos), which means “belonging to the Lord”. This word is used twice in the New Testament:
When you come together, it is not the Lord’s [κυριακόν – kuriakon] supper that you eat. (1 Corinthians 11:20 ESV)
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s [κυριακῆ – kuriake] day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet… (Revelation 1:10 ESV)
In both of these verses, the adjective κυριακός (kuriakos) is used to specify the owner of the “supper” or “day”, that is, the supper and day belonged to the Lord. This word belongs to a completely different somantic domain (range of meanings) than the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia).
Eventually, the place where believers met together came to be called “the Lord’s house” using the term κυριακόν (kuriakon), which is the neuter version (literally, “the Lord’s thing”). This word made its way into both German (“Kirche”), Anglo Saxon (“circe”), and Middle English (“chirche”). It is interesting that when Luther translated the New Testament into vernacular German, he did not use the word “Kirche” to translate ἐκκλησία (ekklesia), he used the German word “Gemeinde”, which means something similar to the English word “community”. However, many Germans still refer to the “church” as the “Kirche”.
When Tyndale translated the New Testament into English in 1536, he also did not use the word “church” to translate the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). Instead, he used the word “congregation”. However, within the next 100 years, all English translations normally used the word “church”.
In some modern languages, the word currently used for the church did derive from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). For example, the French word “église” and the Spanish word “iglesia” derive from the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) through the Latin “ecclesia”. This does not mean that “église” and “iglesia” are always used in the same way that the New Testament authors used the word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). We know that the meaning of words change with time.
So, it does not matter what word is used to reference the church in the New Testament. We can use “church”, or “community”, or “église”, or “iglesia”. It is not the word itself that is important. Instead, it is important how we use those words. Do we use them to refer to buildings or organizations or denominations or clergy? If so, then we are not referring to the same thing that the New Testament authors were referring to when they used the Greek word ἐκκλησία (ekklesia). However, if we use these words to refer to the people of God, then we are referring to the church, or community, or église, or iglesia, or ekklesia that Christ loved and for whom he gave himself.